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Spas and bath houses are cultural touchstones for nations around the world, from the Turkish to the Japanese. Not only do they provide rest and relaxation, they have also historically served as places for communal gathering and social interaction. Naming the best spas in the world can be difficult given the vast array of rituals and traditions spanning from country to country.
Yet, some of the best spas come from a tradition already well-known in much of the western world - the Swedish spa. Many may already be familiar with the look and feel of a Swedish spa, but it is in the country itself that travelers can best experience the national character that seems to infuse itself in the very waters.
One of the more widely recognized traditions of Swedish bathers involves jumping into a lake after enjoying a warm sauna. While some may find the stark transition disconcerting, it is just one part of a larger philosophy that dictates the experience of a Swedish spa. As Visit Sweden describes it, Swedish spas are dedicated to the concept of wellness, which they achieve via four approaches. Those approaches are movement, rest, nutrition and touch. The rest part is easily understood, while movement - in the form of exercise - is invigorating and refreshing. Swedish spas will also generally have sumptuous, nutritious meals on hand. Touch may refer to the also well-known practice that is the Swedish massage, referred to in some places as the classic massage. Whether indoors or outdoors, these four elements not only help to relax bathers, but also to make them feel more in line with the natural world.
Where to get it
There are plenty of Swedish baths to choose from, many of which are centuries old. Sturebadet Spa is a popular destination in Sweden, and once described by The Guardian as a historic Stockholm spa through which travelers could better understand the city and its people. Established in 1885, the spa is built to resemble a Renaissance palace in Venice, and offers bathing, swimming and exercise. However, the spa is relatively young compared to other spas. Loka Brunn, located in Grythyttan, has a history stretching back 300 years, according to Visit Sweden. Nearby are the Royal Mud baths and the Loka Springs. Exercise comes in the form of hunting, fishing and golf. For those that don't mind getting a little dirty, the spa's specialty is a pine-needle oil treatment with a mudpack.
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The scent of rich pine forests lingers in the breeze as the 13th-century ruins of Turaida Castle are revealed before your eyes in the lush Gauja River valley in a medieval sanctuary untouched by the march of time.
The aroma of dark roasted Viennese coffee hangs thick in the air as you tread the cobblestone laneways and bask in the elegant architecture, atmospheric cafes and refined restaurants in one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe.
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